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Year in review: Department of English edition

Faculty and alumni from ASU's Department of English enjoyed a year full of new book releases

book store shelf

December 29, 2015

Arizona State University’s Department of English has no shortage of talented alumni and faculty, as is evidenced by the latest crop of novels, short-story collections, memoirs and poetry to come out of their ranks. In this look back at some of their most notable releases from 2015, ASU Now delves into a literary mash-up of such universal and persistent themes as death, birth, love, betrayal, humor and hopelessness.

2015 alumni releases

Karankawa,” University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, by Iliana Rocha (MFA Creative Writing, 2008)

Winner of the 2014 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, “Karankawa” is a collection that explores some of the ways in which we (re)construct our personal histories. Rich in family narratives, myths and creation stories, Rocha’s poems investigate passage — dying, coming out, transforming, being born — as well as the gaps that also reside in our stories, for, as Rocha suggests, the opportunity to create myths is provided by great silences.

Rocha is now a PhD candidate in English with a creative writing emphasis at Western Michigan University. While earning her MFA at ASU, she served as poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has been chosen for the Best New Poets 2014 anthology and has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Yalobusha Review, Puerto del Sol and Third Coast.

Fortune Smiles,” Random House, 2015, by Adam Johnson (BA Cronkite, 1992)

Johnson’s “Fortune Smiles” is a collection of surreal and comic short stories that deal with natural disasters, technology and politics, and take place in settings ranging from Palo Alto, California, to New Orleans to North Korea. A winner of the National Book Award for fiction, the collection was hailed as “surprising, wondrous, comic and devastating” by competition judges, who called Johnson “one of the most talented writers of his generation.”

Johnson is also the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed novel about North Korea, “The Orphan Master’s Son.”

A Teacher’s Tale: A Memoir,” iUniverse/True Directions, 2015, by Joe Gilliland (PhD English, 1979)

In Gilliland’s inspiring memoir, he recounts how it was never his intention to become a teacher but how that has been the path he has followed for more than 50 years. Beginning in 1932 with Gilliland's first experiences in schooling, “A Teacher’s Tale” concludes in the summer of 1955 just as he is about to become a qualified instructor in a small college in east Texas. Throughout the story Gilliland brings together a philosophy of higher education based on the importance of arts and humanities in today's fast-paced, high-tech world.

Gilliland earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in English from the University of Texas, Austin, before earning his doctorate in English from ASU. He is now retired and currently resides in Bisbee, Arizona, with his wife, Bettie.

The Porcupine of Truth,” Scholastic/Arthur A Levine, 2015, by Bill Konigsberg (MFA Creative Writing, 2005)

In this epic road-trip novel, Konigsberg explores themes of family history, gay history and discovering oneself. The novel is at times funny, poetic and enlightening.

Also the author of critically acclaimed “Openly Straight,” Konigsberg was a sportswriter for the Associated Press and before he began writing novels. The winner of a GLAAD Media Award for a coming-out essay written while working at, he lives in Chandler, Arizona, with his partner, Chuck.

2015 faculty releases

The Quotations of Bone,” Copper Canyon, 2015, by Norman Dubie (Regents’ Professor of English)

Called “one of our premier poets” by the New York Times, Dubie is known for his powerfully imaginative work in which he often assumes historical personae. In “The Quotations of Bone,” his 29th collection of poems, Dubie elicits a rich, vibrant vision of the world that leads the reader to uncommon ways of understanding humanity.

Dubie has been a part of ASU’s Creative Writing program since the 1970s and has given poetry readings throughout the United States.

Ball: Stories,” Soft Skull, 2015, by Tara Ison (associate professor of English)

“Ball” is the debut collection of short fiction by Ison, acclaimed author of the novels “Rockaway” and “A Child Out of Alcatraz.” In it, she explores the darker side of love, sex and death, and how they are often intimately connected. The stories, set mostly in contemporary Los Angeles, feature a recently bereaved young woman, a cancer-stricken best friend and a dying uncle.

Ison recently released the memoir “Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies.” Her short fiction, essays, poetry and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers Weekly; O, the Oprah Magazine; the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine and Book Review; and the Chicago Tribune. Ison is also the co-writer of the cult film “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.”

A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, and Write (The Art of the Essay),” Bellevue Literary Press, 2015, by Melissa Pritchard (professor of English)

In an essay contained in “A Solemn Pleasure,” Pritchard poses the question, “Why write?” The collection attempts to answer that question, among others, by proving the power of language. The various essays explore themes of imagination, literary figures past, Pritchard’s personal experiences and finding inspiration in our own lives.

Pritchard’s writing has received the Flannery O’Connor, Janet Heidinger Kafka and Carl Sandburg awards and two of her short fiction collections were New York Times Notable Book and Editors’ Choice selections. She has worked as a journalist in Afghanistan, India and Ethiopia.

Scrapper,” Soho Press, 2015, by Matt Bell (assistant professor of English)

Author of the well-received novel “In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods,” Bell returns to tell the tale of a post-apocalyptic Detroit in “Scrapper.” A devastating reimagining of one of America’s greatest cities, it forces the reader to confront the consequences of one’s actions, even when they are made with the best intentions.

Bell has written book criticism and coverage for the Los Angeles Times, PEN America, the Quarterly Conversation and the Brooklyn Rail, where he writes a monthly interview series. He is also the former senior editor of Dzanc Books and the founding editor of the Collagist, an online literary journal.

To see more of what ASU English alumni, faculty and staff have to offer in the way of literary entertainment and enlightenment, check out the links below.

Recent alumni publications:

Recent faculty and staff publications:

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